The Team to Beat: Messi, Neymar and Mbappe - Why PSG are Champions League favourites

Written By Goal
Kylian Mbappe Lionel Messi PSG 2021-22
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"My goal and my dream is to win the Champions League once more," Lionel Messi said when he arrived in Paris last month.

It's been 10 long years since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) first bought a majority stake in Paris Saint-Germain - and the dream then is the same now: to be crowned European Champions.

And the 2020 runners-up feel as close as ever after a staggering summer of business that also brought Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Nuno Mendes and Achraf Hakimi.

Reclaiming their Ligue 1 title from reigning champions Lille will be almost an afterthought for coach Mauricio Pochettino and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

While Messi dreams, Al-Khelaifi is on a mission to make good on his own promise after 2020’s final defeat to Bayern Munich. “I promise we're going to win the Champions League,” he pledged that evening in Lisbon.

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And key to the Qatari keeping his word will be Messi, who is in line to make his 150th UEFA Champions League appearance this week and will be out to improve his stunning record in the competition his new club want more than ever.

He’s hit 120 goals and provided 35 assists in the competition between 2004 and 2021, and will hope to recapture the partnership he forged with Neymar when the two led Barcelona to UCL success in 2015.

During their time together at Barca, Messi and Neymar combined for nine UEFA Champions League goals in 33 appearances – since 2003-04, only six duos have combined for 10 goals in the competition, with three of those duos involving Messi (with Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Dani Alves).

That bodes well for PSG’s other star forward. While the Luis Suarez-spearheaded MSN may be a thing of the past, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the latest incarnation - MNM.

Across the last four UEFA Champions League campaigns (since 2017-18), only six players have been directly involved in 30+ goals in the competition. Half of them form MNM - Kylian Mbappe (37), Lionel Messi (36) and Neymar (31).

PSG, then, undoubtedly have the firepower to achieve Messi’s dream and keep Al-Khelaifi’s promise.

A star-studded attack, however, has never been a cause of concern for PSG, who have missed out on previous occasions more due to the lack of solidity when trying to stop their opponents.

There are concerns that MNM will offer little without the ball, despite Pochettino’s preference for a high, coordinated team press when out of possession.

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A lack of defensive effort further up the field raises the pertinent question of whether any modern team can win the Champions League without a collective approach to their defensive work.

PSG have, however, done their best to mitigate against that by bringing in four-time Champions League winner Ramos to marshall the backline. In Hakimi they have probably the world’s best right-back and Nuno Mendes should solve what has been a problem position for them at left-back.

Add in the midfield workrate of Wijnaldum and Pochettino will hope he has the tools to protect this side against the all-important transitions which so frequently decide games at the highest level.

For the first time in their history, PSG are clear favourites for the UEFA Champions League they crave so much. Lionel Messi’s dream may yet become Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s reality.

PSG are, without doubt, the team to beat.

PSG are clear favourites for the UEFA Champions League

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